TV Upfront

Fall TV's 14 Best Bets to Survive Pilot Season

A Sneak Peek at Broadcast's Most Promising Pilots

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'Chicago Med'
'Chicago Med' Credit: NBC
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There is no business model more accustomed to failure than that of broadcast TV. Of the 90 scripted pilots commissioned last year by the four major English-language networks, nearly half (41, or 46%) were ordered to series. No more than 11 of these will return for a second season; in other words, 88% of the 2014-15 pilots either never saw the light of day or could not deliver a viable audience upon securing a spot on the prime-time roster.

Food for thought: Imagine an airline with an 88% failure rate.

The cost of all this extravagant myopia was something on the order of $355 million last season, and yet the time-honored practice continues apace. With just three weeks to go before the broadcasters unveil their fall schedules, executives are hunkering down in front of their flatscreens to try to divine the next "Empire." Of the 84 scripted projects in contention, the following have the best shot at making it to a screen near you.

NBC

On the verge of wrapping up its second seasonal ratings victory in as many years, the Peacock still has holes to plug in its schedule. The most pressing concern remains Thursday night, which failed to draw a crowd even after NBC scrubbed all vestiges of comedy from the lineup for the first time in 35 years. Should the network next fall forge ahead with an all-drama slate, it could do worse than pair "The Blacklist" with "Chicago Med," the third panel of Dick Wolf's Windy City triptych. ("Chicago Fire" was the first.) The April 7 backdoor pilot for "Chicago Med" averaged 8.43 million viewers, out-delivering the "Chicago P.D." test run of two years ago by 22%. The end-of-days dramedy "Apocalypse Slough" may also be a lure for studios' Thursday movie dollars. Meanwhile, the Jennifer Lopez cop drama "Shades of Blue" would appear to be the top candidate to take over the plum Monday 10 p.m. slot after "The Voice."

CBS

CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves in February told investors that while there wouldn't be a lot of turnover on the network's fall schedule, the new shows that are ordered "will be in protected time periods, giving them an excellent chance at success." To that end, "Beyond Borders," a spinoff of its veteran procedural "Criminal Minds" is all but a lock, as the April 8 backdoor pilot delivered 10.4 million viewers and a sturdy 2.7 rating among CBS's target demo (adults 25-54). Based on the eponymous 2011 Bradley Cooper smart-drugs-on-steroids thriller, "Limitless" could be just the thing to adrenalize the network's Thursday 10 p.m. slot. "Supergirl" has secured a series order, and while it almost certainly won't square off against Fox's "Gotham" (at least if DC Comics has any say in the matter), the Monday 9 p.m. slot looks pretty cozy.

ABC

The Thursday night Shonda Rhimes takeover has been a roaring success and its comedies are solid, but ABC struggles under the 10 o'clock curse. Season-to-date, the network's 10 p.m.Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday dramas are averaging an anemic 1.2 in the 18-49 demo, which is really starting to put the squeeze on ad rates. ABC has a dozen pilots that it may call upon to help bolster these trouble spots. Among the most "on-brand" dramas are "The Advocate," which stars Kim Raver ("24," "Grey's Anatomy") as a hard-charging executive who, after a serious misdiagnosis, jettisons her career to become a health-care reformer, and "The Catch," which -- say no more -- is executive produced by Ms. Rhimes. And while on paper it may seem like a bit of a stretch for ABC, the druggy, neo-noir "L.A. Crime" could absolutely eviscerate the pro forma Tuesday night competition.

Keke Palmer stars in Fox's 'Scream Queens.'
Keke Palmer stars in Fox's 'Scream Queens.' Credit: Fox

FOX

Staring down the barrel at last place, Fox also boasts the one unambiguous smash hit in the sudsy hip-hop drama "Empire." Co-Presidents Gary Newman and Dana Walden have loaded up on familiar concepts and properties like "Frankenstein" and "Lucifer," the latter based on the DC Comics series by Neil Gaiman ("The Sandman"). The network recently committed to a six-episode reboot of "The X Files" and made a direct-to-series order for Ryan Murphy's anthology strip "Scream Queens." Lastly, a sequel to Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" is one of five film adaptations duking it out for a shot at the fall schedule.